The scientific and industrial revolution that affected Europe and the rest of the world in the nineteenth century was further developed with the arrival of the twentieth century. This century was marked with significant progress in sectors such as the sciences, philosophy, social theory, and the arts. However no other field has in my opinion seen such drastic changes as the literary field. Breaking away from literary movements of the other centuries such as romanticism or realism, authors of the modernism borrow from new ideas in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, political theory, psychoanalysis, and physics to create their works. In this essay we will study the impact of any of the above fields in creating a sense of disillusionment, fragmentation, or isolation in the particular work of Kafka called The Metamorphosis.
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The metamorphosis, as mentioned above, is a work of fiction written by Franz Kafka. After reading this story I can easily see why it has become so popular. Not only is it a great story, but it also stands out because of it use of philosophy and psychology as a way to explain certain human behaviors. The most of obvious concept that influenced Kafka in writing The Metamorphosis is Existentialism.
Existentialism is a theory that became very popular during the nineteenth century and that asserts that any given choice will govern the later course of a person’s life, and that the person has ultimate will over making choices. In the case of Kafka story, this translates first into solitude and alienation.
The isolation and despair that Gregor experienced is obvious from the start. From the very first sentence of the story we notice this solitude. Gregor is lying on his bed in a shape of a gigantic insect and there is nobody around to help him. This theme of isolation is even more present in the rest of the story as we see that Gregor can’t depend on anyone for support. He locks himself in his room when he is at home or on the road for business and doesn’t go out to meet people. He doesn’t have a girlfriend nor does he has friends to rely on in times of need. Instead he isolated himself from society.
Another example of this alienation becomes apparent in his relationship with his family. Although he doesn’t realize it, his relationship with them is not very good. By being the breadwinner of the family, Gregor leaves no room for his father to be the provider and the responsible one. At the same time he is trying to save money so he can send his sister to a conservatory where she can play violin but fails to discuss that idea with her. In his mind he think that the family is proud and happy with him, however the reality is different and the only thing he accomplishes is to alienate himself from them. Even though he takes care of them, they are still unhappy with him.
Furthermore, the theme of isolation and alienation is present with the metaphor of the insect. I think that the reason why Kafka transform his main character into a this bug is to show us how helpless Gregor feels. His life as an insect is no different than his life as a human. Trying to communicate with his family as an insect is impossible and frustrating because all they hear are bug noises that scare them. They don’t want him around because his appearance is shameful and they don’t want to take care of him as he becomes more and more a liability to them. Throughout the whole story, Gregor is a stranger to everybody. His contact with society is minimal, and his alienation from his family becomes total with his transformation as an insect.
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The influence of existentialism on Kafka’s metamorphosis doesn’t only stop to the concept of alienation. The Metamorphosis is also about disillusionment. Besides being isolated, Gregor starts viewing the life as somehow absurd and futile. He can’t seem to understand why things like this happen to a good human being like him. All he is trying to do is to make his family happy. He works at a job that he despises so that he can support his family that is having hard times. We can quote him saying: “If I didn’t have my parents to think about I’d have given in my notice a long time ago, I’d have gone up to the boss and told him just what I think, tell him everything I would, let him know just what I feel”. Despite all this good he is doing, the tragedy of the metamorphosis befalls him and his family abandons him.
As time passes by, Gregor’s disillusion grows bigger. His body falls into a state of despair due to abuse neglect and sickness. He carried threads, hairs, and remains of food about on his back and sides. He spent his days fantasizing about being normal and wondering why this was happening to him. One thing that really shows the influence of the Existentialist philosophy on Kafka is that he doesn’t want us to feel bad for Gregor. Instead, the impression I get from reading this is that Kafka wants Gregor to find a meaning to his life even though he is in a bad situation. He should have stopped being depressed because of his family and his job and started living life for him first. If we follow Kafka’s reasoning, we can assume that Gregor’s death is due more to the fact that he was disillusioned and depressed than to the fact that his physical health was deteriorating.
To sum up, one can say that the Modernism movement brought forth new ideas to the world of literature and the Metamorphosis is a good example of that. As the world around them was evolving, author like Kafka and Camus looked for other sciences for inspiration and to explain some of the human behaviors. Existentialism provided them with a mean to convey their feelings, especially in regards to isolation, alienation, and the meaning of life in general. Nowadays, because of the quality of their works, they became household names not only in literature but also in other fields such as psychology.
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